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New Snake With Pitch Black Eyes Highlights Diversity of the Andes

Dec 03, 2015 05:58 PM EST
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A new snake species with pitch black eyes highlights the vast biodiversity that remains hidden in the forests of the Andes, bringing current taxonomies into question. 

The nonvenomous snake has subsequently been named Synophis zaheri, after Dr. Hussam El-Dine Zaher, a Brazilian herpetologist whose work has been foundational for South American snakes, according to a news release. The international team behind the recent discovery was led by Dr. R. Alexander Pyron of The George Washington University.

So what does Synophis zaheri look like?

For one thing, you can't miss its large and bulging all-black eyes – which initially made it difficult for researchers to distinguish between its pupil and iris. In fact, its eyes seem grossly our of scale in comparison to the much smaller body that averages less than 40 centimeters long. The snakes topside is grayish-brown but its under side is a distinct yellow. 

DNA sequences revealed the snake belongs to a tribe known as Nothopsini that falls under the Dipsadinae family of snakes.

"Dipsadine diversity in the Andes is clearly underestimated, and new species are still being discovered in the 21st century," researchers wrote in their study.

Synophis zaheri is also unique for its scale pattern.

"In light of this new species and the updated material we have located and examined, we have prepared updated accounts for the tribe and the other species," researchers added. "Hopefully, these will serve as useful descriptive summaries for taxonomic boundaries, species delimitation, and the assignment of new specimens and populations to species-level groups."

Future studies, however, may be limited simply due to extreme rarity.

The study's findings were recently published in the journal ZooKeys.  

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